The ‘rotten apples’ theory


Throughout my involvement in policing—since 1953—I’ve been periodically reminded that every police department harbors a few rotten apples and, if we can only excise them, the entire barrel can be rescued.
An attractive notion, but flawed.
Those apples are the alpha males that set the tone and create the dominant culture. They are the thumpers. Bemedalled and protected by police unions who’ve bought legislative and political support.
Study any ugly incident and the thumpers surface—albeit that they’ve managed to cloak their records of complaints and judgments (paid by you) in secrecy.
Some bad apples, huh?
The thumpers are in charge. The others graze and stand by and look vaguely distracted. The hope that they’ll intervene is hopelessly naïve.
The role of police unions is to protect the meat eaters. They did it so slickly in the Damond case you’re not even aware of it—but you will shell out.
And you’re in—in my myopic view—for another treat in the Floyd case. Can the fired officers stay fired? Will they be convicted? Will there be a settlement? How come the mayor and police chief in the Damond case are no longer around? And, while I’m at it, where is Giuliani? The Witness Protection Program? Searching for a vaccine Trump can claim inventing?
The rotten apples theory posits the comfort that—were we to identify and remove these few malefactors—the body would be cleansed and all would be well.
Dream on.
Crises force democracies into painful solutions. The Serpico scandal pressed the NYC Mayor Lindsay to appoint a reformer, Pat Murphy, my hero. He lasted 30 months. He’s widely considered a pariah. Let me assure you, he performed miracles of reform and left an agency that coasted on his achievements for a decade.
Were the City Council to reduce the police budget 25 percent and insist on all one-person patrols: 8-hour days, 40-hour week rotating charts—the creation of decoys—the use of stings and some stakeouts; the elimination of horse patrols, press information officers and other boondoggles, it would be a much more smoothly functioning entity. In fact, reducing any
P. D.’s budget by 25 percent would deliver miracles of efficiency across the land.
The MPD has about 150 more cops than in 1985 when there was a lot more crime and violence. It now has four deputy chiefs (three in the ’80s) and a heap of waste. No need to defund, just reduce the duplication, featherbedding and waste.
During my tenure, the MPD went through nine years of no promotions and emerged stronger for it. Overtime was cut sharply. Morale was never lower. Yet no one quit.
The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the mayor—but he’s not interested.
Inside the MPD, control could be asserted through an internal affairs unit reporting directly to the chief, guided by openness of records and led by an executive who can be demoted by the stroke of a pen.
Don’t hold your breath.
Cider, anyone?

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